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Mad About You

Welcome to Flashback Friday [1], a weekly feature devoted to the 20th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.

Twenty years, 43 Fridays. This is one of them.

I’d love to tell you how I balanced the thus far once-in-a-lifetime sensation of following the 1986 Mets with carrying out my happening social life of twenty years ago. I’d love to tell you about all the dates I had to make and break depending on the schedule, all the ladies who had to share the front seat with Bob Murphy and Gary Thorne, how I broke up with this one girl because she wanted to go see that hunky Tom Cruise in The Color of Money on Saturday night, October 25, 1986, but I begged off because I was otherwise engaged.

I’d love to tell you all that because it might make for a nice story, but I can’t, because none of that ever happened. And we’ve seen what happens when you fake your own memoir.

I had no social life to speak of in 1986, at least not one that involved women. Oh, there were a couple of misfires, maybe an imaginary relationship or two, but my only genuine romantic involvement was with 24 men — several more after the September 1 callups. I wasn’t seeing anyone except the Mets in 1986 and though I probably didn’t think that was completely the way to go at the time, it worked out fine.

Honestly, what was I going to do? Not watch the 1986 Mets so I could “get lucky”? What could be luckier than being alive and sentient for the 1986 Mets? I caught some or all of 160 of 162 regular-season games that year (and, yes, it is to my everlasting shame that I was in on only 98.7% of the year’s action). Games were probably shorter then, but I needed several hours a day to read the papers and anticipate the next matchup. There was no WFAN, so I had to conduct my own post-game show in my head. Throw in a little working, a little eating and a little sleeping, and my days and nights were pretty darn full.

I imagine it occurred to me every now and then that this did not constitute a “lifestyle” for a 23-year-old guy, but I was bearing witness to the only Mets juggernaut there’s ever been. That occupies a fellow’s time. The skirts would have to wait.

Perhaps you remember the dust kicked up when Baseball conspired to schedule not one but two of the National League Championship Series games during Yom Kippur, Sunday night and Monday afternoon. It was kind of a slap in the face given that the games were in New York, home of the Majors’ largest Jewish population. No problem here since I had already forsaken all others for the Lord God Mex, but it did seem a little rude. I bring that up here, because the end of Yom Kippur — the breaking of the fast — was supposed to be a setup of the non-McDowell variety. That is, I was supposed to be set up with a girl who liked the Mets.

They had those? The only evidence I had seen of that was the chick who ran through the stands in a bridal grown wielding a placard that read MARRY ME LENNY. But OK, these are the ’86 Mets we’re talking about. Just because I hadn’t met any girls who cared didn’t mean they hadn’t existed. If they did, it might not be the worst thing in the world. This was October 1986 and the Mets and Astros were knotted at two games apiece. The air was thick with fodder for meaningful small talk.

The lass in question lived next door to my sister. Her neighbors Harold and Miriam, Suzan told my mother, had a daughter, roughly my age, who was “really into baseball,” a big plus it was figured. And she was Jewish, which was why this mattered to Mom in the first place. So when the Day of Atonement ended, the night of introduction followed. Our whole family was at Suzan’s house when Harold, Miriam and the daughter came by for new year’s greetings and sponge cake.

I don’t remember the girl’s name, but I remember this: My mother, who hoped I’d find a Nice Jewish Girl the way I hoped Doc would pitch us a no-hitter, said, “so, I hear you’re a big Mets fan.”

“Oh, the Mets,” she said. “Mets, Mets, Mets. I am so sick of the Mets!”

I guarantee you I said not one word to this person the rest of the evening. If she didn’t want to talk about Gooden facing Ryan in the next afternoon’s rainout makeup — Someone Upstairs had not been pleased by the Yom Kippur scheduling, apparently — I didn’t want to talk to her. Nothing personal. Such decisions represented my default stance throughout 1986.

After the Mets won the World Series (gosh, it’s fun to write that sentence), I made several trips to the Gold Coast Vendors Market in Oceanside to procure championship trinkets, including a fistful of buttons that indicated the identity of the 1986 World Champions. I decided to mail them out like World Series rings to just about anybody I’d ever known who’d put up with me during the long winless drought of the late ’70s and early ’80s. I packaged one up and sent it to a girl I had unhealthily obsessed on when I was in college. We had been good friends and she’d had a boyfriend, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her and after graduation I had made her a mix tapeā€¦

You can be sure any long-distance courting that includes “made her a mix tape” doesn’t end well, but I figured that by enduring my entreaties she had earned the World Champions button, the same way Frank Cashen awarded rings to Ed Lynch, George Foster and Bruce Berenyi even though they were gone by October. I didn’t expect anything to come of it. But I also didn’t expect it to bounce back to me marked “addressee unknown”.

That was the dichotomy of 1986. A white hot baseball romance, a solid .000 on other matters of the heart.

Now at the top of this thing, I told you I’d love to tell you about my social life exploits in 1986, but I realize now I’m glad I have so little to report. That’s because while 1986 remains unmatched in Mets annals, it was also the last year during which I was left stranded on base alone. The calendar, like baseball, is often a game of redeeming features.

1987 was indeed a different story for me. It was a different story for the Mets, too, as you’re all aware, but that’s irrelevant at the moment. The Mets did one thing right in ’87. They took the field as defending world champions. They ultimately didn’t defend their title effectively, but they still carried the aura of something special.

And what better than something special than to take someone special on a first date?

May 11, 1987 was my very own June 15, 1983. On June 15, 1983, the Mets traded for Keith Hernandez and the franchise changed forever and for the better. On May 11, 1987, the fates dealt me Stephanie West and I was blessedly never the same either.

Our first evening together — recounted last September in the first half of Flashback Friday: 1990 [2] — culminated in my suggesting a lovely evening on the town, the town being Flushing.

She went for it. She even said she had watched “the last three games” of the 1986 World Series. She said “three” in a way that indicated an uncertainty over what she watched, but she was definitely aware that the Mets had won a championship of some sort and that she was in favor of it. Though she was born in Kansas and living in Florida, I had learned there were a couple of significant slivers of her childhood spent in the general vicinity of New York City.

As I tend to do, I quickly constructed a backstory for personal use, one that had my new girlfriend sitting in her dorm room in October ’86 watching a portable TV, telling anybody who wandered by that of course I’m watching the World Series. I’m from New York, you know. I was disappointed that my hometown team, the Mets, lost Game Five in Fenway, but I stayed up late Saturday night and they didn’t let me down. They came back when that ball went through the first baseman’s legs. Even though I have early classes Tuesday, I’m not going to bed until this seventh game is settled. Her enthusiasm was infectious as all the girls of Gamma Hall gathered around the black & white set, and when Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett, there were hugs everywhere, maybe even a celebratory pillow fight or two.

OK, I didn’t imagine the pillow fight until now, but you get my drift.

I never fully investigated the claim of “last three games.” I was just happy that a) Stephanie knew who the Mets were; and b) she wanted to go to Shea Stadium. There was no hesitation, just anticipation.

The lineup the Mets fielded Friday night, May 15, 1987 [3] was reasonably close to a 1986 lineup. Gary Carter was off, but Barry Lyons, up early the year before, was behind the plate. Kevin McReynolds was the only non-’86er who played that night. Otherwise, it was very much like it had been the season before.

Sid Fernandez threw five hitless innings.

Darryl Strawberry homered.

Lenny Dykstra homered.

Howard Johnson homered.

Doug Sisk was booed.

The Mets won easily.

Though the ’87 Mets were off to a suspiciously crummy start (even after the win the Mets were three under .500), it was an ’86 kind of night. The Mets were the Mets as I wanted to share them. They were as special as I was sure Stephanie was.

Conveniently scrubbed from the telling to this point is we were with another couple, the couple who put us together four nights earlier. Their role at the Mets game was to act silly. They bought a pair of those Snoopy knockoff hand-puppets that used to be sold in the stands, the kind with a Mets cap that would stick its tongue out when you squeezed it. It was funny for about five minutes. Our friends squeezed them much longer than that. And they nicknamed their beagle puppets Barfy.

Stephanie and I were already rolling our eyes at them; our sense of “aren’t they ridiculous?” drew us only closer. She was not a Barfy girl. Much classier. When we arrived at Shea, she immediately bought a program. You go to the theater, you get a Playbill, you go to a Mets game, you do the same. I liked that.

Shortly after Barfy appeared, I excused myself to the nearest concession. I wanted to give her something Metsian but something that fit her personality. Maybe a batting helmet…no, that’s not right. I saw a gorgeous print, a fisheye view of Shea from behind centerfield taken during the introductions prior to Game One of the World Series. I bought two. One for her, one for me. The next time I visited her, I found she had hung it up over her bed. That and a picture of Jesse Orosco celebrating. She clipped it from the program.

Stephanie liked the Mets. The Mets played like the world champions they technically still were for Stephanie. I was in heaven and I haven’t left since.

That was our first of many ballgames in many ballparks together. We were married in November 1991. My best man’s toast came from a letter I wrote him the morning after that first game. In it, I had told Chuck that because it was getting chilly as the innings grew later that I’d offered Stephanie my Mets jacket for warmth. “If you know Greg,” he said, “you know that meant he was serious.”

Not at all incidentally, Happy Birthday, today, to my darling wife. Thank you in particular on this Flashback Friday for making my semi-conscious decision to do nothing but watch baseball and avoid entanglements with all others in 1986 pay off so beautifully ever since 1987.